The Trump Organization’s pursuit in 2013 of a tower in Moscow bearing the Trump name was much farther along than previously disclosed, with a memorandum of understanding signed and financing arranged, according to new documents released to the public and information obtained by McClatchy.
President Donald Trump and his children have described a possible Moscow hotel deal in only the broadest of terms, calling it something that grew out of the Miss Universe contest held in Moscow that year.
Sources tell McClatchy, however, that by then talks had been under way for months and architectural drawings had been submitted. One of the sources of planned financing was the Sapir family, which had backed the now-failed Trump Soho project in Manhattan years earlier.
“I think it was a fairly far along deal,” said a person with direct knowledge of the deal, who demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The revelations add another dimension to the depth of discussions between Trump's organization and his family and individuals in Russia, many of them close to its leader, Vladimir Putin. Trump has long insisted, including in early 2017, before he took office, that "I have nothing to do with Russia."
A statement from Donald Trump Jr. given to the Senate Judiciary Committee was among the more than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony released unexpectedly by the panel on Wednesday. The documents involved some of the players in the now infamous June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower.
The Trump Jr. statement said that the Trump Organization and Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group began preliminary discussions on “potential real estate projects in Moscow” soon after the pageant. It was a publicist for Agalarov's son, Emin, a Russian pop singer, who contacted Trump Jr. to set up the 2016 meeting, telling Trump Jr. that the Russian lawyer would deliver negative information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Under direct questioning from senators, Trump Jr. described a residential tower “still to be designed with maybe some retail components as Trump-branded property.”
But elsewhere in the documents released Wednesday was testimony from Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Soviet republic of Georgia who since 2003 has been a representative for both Agalarovs.
Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch and real estate magnate, is said to be close to Putin. He hosted the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, paying Trump between $14 million and $20 million for the right to do so.
Kaveladze backed up Trump Jr.’s timeline that the two sides began negotiating in December, weeks after the beauty contest, but didn't disclose that financing had been lined up and architectural plans drawn before talks ended with a thud in October or November 2014.
“And then all I got was calls from my architects complaining that Trump people don’t respond,” Kaveladze said. “Calls and emails.”
Kaveladze said that Emin Agalarov gave him terms and conditions to negotiate, and that Trump Jr. was on the other end of the discussions that ended with a letter of intent in the first quarter of 2014. Then the Trump team failed to follow through, he said.
One of two potential sources of financing for the Agalarov deal, which was in place before negotiations began, was the family of Tamir Sapir, who financed the Trump Soho hotel and condo project in Manhattan in 2006. Sapir died in September 2014, around the time the Moscow deal seems to have fallen apart. The Trump Organization has never disclosed why the deal did not materialize, and did not respond to a request for comment.
Kaveladze’s timeline would indicate that very few months elapsed between that deal's death and the beginning of talks about another one. Trump associate Felix Sater and Trump Organization attorney Michael D. Cohen discussed a Moscow hotel deal in 2015 and into 2016, also signing a letter of intent — theirs with Moscow developer I.C. Expert Consulting.
Word of the Sater and Cohen effort caused a stir last year, in part because Trump, after his election and as president, so vociferously denied having Russian business ties. They confirmed that in fact the Trump Organization sought deals in Moscow even as Trump ran for president. Last September CNN published an unsigned preliminary letter of intent between the parties on that deal.
Sater and Cohen did not appear to have anything to do with the Agalarov’s Moscow deal. Around that time, Cohen was busily trying to land Trump Diamond — a Trump-branded obelisk-shaped hotel pitched to the government of longtime Kazakh ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev.
McClatchy reported exclusively last year about the Trump Diamond hotel planned for Astana, the post-Soviet capital of Kazakhstan; the pitch lost out to a rival bid. Cohen’s associate on that deal was U.S.-based Giorgi Rtskhiladze, who too had been born in Soviet Georgia and is married to a Kazakh film star.
Rtskhiladze was the U.S. partner in a deal with Georgian investors to put a Trump tower in the Georgian city of Batumi on the Black Sea. The Trump Organization pulled out of that deal shortly after Trump’s November 2016 election.
Kaveladze’s testimony identified U.S. architect David McGee as the person the Agalarovs hired to draw up a possible Trump Tower Moscow.
One person familiar with players in both deals said Cohen had been advised to steer clear of the Agalarovs.
“They were warned,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals. “You never know what’s behind the trap door with these people.”
Agalarov has past ties to Rtskhiladze, a financier in energy, banking and media who once backed the fashion lines sold throughout the former Soviet Union by singers Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani and Beyoncé Knowles.
The clothes were sold in Moscow through the luxury mall that Agalarov pioneered in a Moscow suburb soon after the start of Vladimir Putin’s long rule that began in 2000.